Barrels of Prose and Slugs of Pulp

rating: +59+x

The Starship Centaurus screams out of the wormhole at twice light speed. The chassis blasts off layers of shielding in an azure lightshow. Captain Underhill takes a look through the rear camera and slams on the brakes. The ship fires retrograde while shooting past clusters of space junk, dropping the rungs of FTL into a steady .5c.

Right on cue the wormhole releases one last traveler as it closes. The green dagger of the HAND.

Transmissions crackle over the comlinks. « RETURN THE TOMES, UNDERHILL. »

Rayguns blazing, the HAND dives for the attack. The Centaurus zig-zags across the junk and shattered planets that wall this sector of space and swoops through the explosions of twin antimissiles. Clouds of debris launch past the cockpit. Fractionally, he lessens the thrust.


"I know."

He tugs hard on the joystick. The ship flips around.

"That's just what I'm counting on."

The HAND's crew has a split nanosecond to witness the Starbreaker Cannon strapped to the Centaurus's underside before the beam hits. Waves of blinding energy tear through the hull, plating and shielding buckles, and the HAND explodes in a flare of

In a flare of…

Maria Niven flicks the Chaos Insurgency medallion on her desk.

…fucking what?

She stands up from her typewriter and paces about the apartment space, flicking the medallion again and again.

One chunk of sentence left. In a chunk the agents of the Serpent's Hand will be dead, atomized across prosespace, and Captain Underhill will fly off in a blaze of glory. Next installment is where they'll rig the widget needed to drag him back from fiction into reality, but this is the key. The metafictional chase stops here.

The CI will take the tomes of narrative combat, and they will win.

in a flare of


The walls groan and arms of ink pry from the cracks in the chute running down the wall, pointing to the typewriter.

"I'll publish this in one moment, damn."

‘Publication.’ If stamping a manuscript with a CI copyright geas, slipping it to distributor demons, and having it disseminated through a (paid) legion of readership hiveminds counts as publication then so be it. So long as it keeps the fanfic writers at bay.

Right, the flare. Maria sits back down, cracking her knuckles, pushing her chair in…

…spotting the blots of darkness across the page.

The HAND's ███w has █ spl██ ██████cond to witnes█ the Starbreaker Cannon █trapped to the Centau████s un█er█i██ ███████he beam ████. Waves of blinding energy ████ ███o███ the hull, plating and shielding ███████, and the HAND ██████ in a flare of

"..Did you seriously just get ink on the page?"

The distributors trail their fingers across the wall.


"Ugh." Shrugging it off, she cranks the lever on the typewriter's side to undo the spill and refresh the page. She looks back. The spill's still there.

"Writer's block and now this…" Mumbling as she cranks the level again, she watches closely. Nothing changes.

Crank again, still stained. Fourth, fifth, sixth time she slams it down, nearly ripping it from the machine. Seventh. Eighth. Her eyes are locked on the page and her mind is locked on the window she's planning on throwing the typewriter through.

Change now, change already you—

The stain changes.

███ █████ ████ ███ █ ███ i █ █████████ d ██ ███████ ███ ███████████ ██████ ████████ ██ ███ ██████████ ██████ i ██ ███ o ██ ███ ████ ██ t █. █████ ██ ████████ ██████ ████ ███████ ███ ████, ███████ ███ █████████ ███████, ███ ███ ████ ███████ ██ █ █████ ██


"You really have to be one to have so little security."

Maria jumps as two robed Serpent's Hand mages phase through the desk. One pulls their hood down, letting out locks of red-dyed hair. The other's hood shifts as a face of ballpoint pens oscillates. They regain physicality and touch down on the floor.

"Two security golems, one guard who I'm certain was a college roommate of yours," she retracts fountain pen tendrils from the typewriter's gears, dragging the stain along with them into her sleeve, "and a kill agent you stapled together. We just walked in."

"Look, just because the Insurgency Writer's Guild doesn't get much money—" Maria swipes the medallion off the desk. She switches on the emergency hex in it and catapults it into the head of the Calligromancer.

It hits the ballpoints. A hole opens in them. The Calligromancer eats the medallion.

"I've seen better on lower budgets." She gestures to the redhead. "Onsis, step back and keep watch." Onsis summons a gun in hand and does so. "Now."

The pendrils wind from both and press their nubs against Maria's neck, red ink spilling for effect. "You're going to write my friends a revival, and then we're bringing them, the tome, and Underhill back into reality."

"But the widget hasn't been prepared—"

"I brought one." Robes part and a rollerball claw drops a cubic Narrative Extractor on the desk, its silver metaphysical needles already stabbing into the page. Its LED display reads READY.

"…and I… havewriter's block…"

"Onsis has a gun. Write."

Waves of blinding energy tear through the hull, plating and shielding buckles, and the HAND explodes in a flare of plasma. The ship is gone. Nothing more than an afterglow and dust is left in the Starbreak's wake.

"Yes! Finally!" Underhill pumps his fists. "Computer, once the spacetime drill refuels, set us a course to New Earth. Need to get the tome delivered

The nubs dig in.

"I'm— I'm getting to it."

delivered… pronto…"

He gapes. Chunks of debris stitch themselves together, nanomachines pulling at the metal and recombining it all into solid form. Out of the afterglow the HAND rises again.

"How… How is this possible?"

Underhill stands from his chair, staggering back across six-fold octagonal fractal glyphs carved into the floor and laced in goat's blood. Instinctively he unholsters his two rayguns but no, there's no use. No hope. He drops them onto the glyph and stumbles further.

"Course is set for Did You Really Think This Would Work, Captain," the computer announces.

He pauses. Slowly, he replies, "Don't you know how much magic is in this typewriter?"


The needles pulse electric currents through the page and into the shape of the octagonal glyphs. Both rayguns hurtle out. Maria grabs them.

Before the pens can scrawl across her neck she fires twin laser beams that shred the pendrils in half. Calligromancer screeches, spraying red ink as backup pendrils shoot out. Maria blasts in all directions. The walls turn riddled with holes and smoke but the pendrils swerve over and over and make contact. Not stabbing. Writing on her skin. Calligraphic commands lock into her nerves and her arms jerk into place at the keys.

Not a problem.

Underhill realizes what he has to do. He dashes up, opening every compartment in the cockpit and throwing all the stashed away junk onto the glyphs without a second thought…

Broken rayguns burst out, fire, short-circuit, combust, blow grenades exiting the page forward with their blast. Pins flick out and the grenades go off in balls of plasma all around the Calligromancer. She's unharmed — tangles of calligraphy splinter the floorboards into arrays of levitating shields.

"You know how many you killed when you wrote the raid on us?"

No response. Only frenetic typing.

The Calligromancer grabs a set of floorboards and charges forward. Pendrils stretch from behind and write more and more, turning the wood into jets of fire which she jumps over. The jets reach Maria, extinguishing against the holoshields that emerge and block them.

"You're working for monsters, Maria."

A drone bursts from the page as it fires its rotary raygun. The Calligromancer dodges. Two shots from Onsis' pistol and the drone rotors shred themselves apart. It falls. The desk collapses. Maria clacks. Onsis halts.

"Onsis, what are you doing?"

"Too much light, I can't se—"

The BOOM of a missile cuts her short just as the shockwave blows the ceiling open. Maria is blasted against the wall. Bones crack but the typewriter keeps hold, the needles are still in, it keeps…

The Calligromancer stands overhead. Her face of ballpoints gazes down, glaring.

"Well? Are you going to write it? Or should I get your brain to do it for you?"

"…Elsewhere in the… she runs down the halls, skidding down the corner to the airlock…"

"What are you saying?"

The rollerball claw yanks on Maria's right hand, bleeding ink from shattered pens along it, breaking the locking spell. Maria doesn't stop muttering.

"…closes the hatch behind her. She puts the spacesuit on as best as she can with her broken arm, seals it tight. She flicks the switch." her hand flicks the air.

"Wait, you're getting into character—"

"First Mate Maria Niven steps onto the ritual pad."

Her free hand finishes typing.


The walls and floor and ceiling dissolve into slates of white, reality twisting and spinning—

and the Calligraphy Beast shouts in horror.

Too late.

The airlock hatch swings open and the chamber explosively depressurizes. Walls of air slam against the beast, launching them straight out into space. Niven holds onto the switch for dear life. It clicks down. The door shuts, O2 flooding back in with a hiss.

Captain Underhill opens the interior door.

"Maria? What's happening?"

"SH attacked and tried to get the tomes. I've got enough mental control that I can keep writing the narrative for a short time. I need to get out of here and get this published."

He grabs her by the arm. "Follow me, the cockpit has—"

"Warning!" the Computer shouts over the intercom. "Ships have exited spatial tunneling. Identified as United Federation."

Underhill pauses. "…Did you write that?"

Maria's face goes pale. "No but the typewriter is hexed, nobody could be— wait, no, I’m not in reality anymore, there can’t be a hex!”

Outside, the Centaurus and the HAND lose engine control. Tractor beams claw into their frames, tugging them into the stasis field of a United Federation dreadnaught.

"Then who—"

"James is still outside, SH snuck past him, the golems can't write, I don't have this much narrative control."

Groans echo through the hull.

Underhill paces over and over, hands to his temples. The ship reaches the stasis field.

"Maria, who the hell are you letting write us?"


The page ejects from the typewriter. Onsis takes the stamp from inside the fragmented desk drawers, presses it into the manuscript, covers the geas with their hand, and psionically slides it over to the chute. The distributors yank it in.

They take in a deep breath. Four weeks of apprenticeship was more than enough undercover work for their liking.

« Agent Dell? What’s your status? » The walkie-talkie they somehow managed to keep ahold of goes off.

"Underhill and the other CI operative are stuck in the narrative, along with the Hand members. Just published it."

« Good. Team A has the pipeline the chute leads to under control, and once we get the manuscript we'll be extracting everyone in it. »

Dell heaves the typewriter and Narrative Extractor into the air, letting it float behind them. "Copy that."

« One last note: we just had another metafiction incident. Foundation personnel tried to accost Scarlet Hammer operatives smuggling paraweapons through comic anthologies. There was an explosion and now the operatives are splintered across every work of fiction in a mile radius. »

They sigh.

« Once you finish cleaning up there head back to HQ. We will get you prepared. »

Never a dull day on UIU narrative watch.

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